Same Old, Same Old at the Top, But … Irish Election Makes Room for the Left


John Meehan reports from Dublin

Writing in the North American online magazine Counterpunch Harry Browne zoned in on two key features on the Irish February 25 2011 General Result :

The same old :

A Fine Gael / Labour coalition takes over the government after 14 years of Fianna Fáil rule. Since 1932, Fianna Fáil have been the governing party for 61 out of 79 years. They have won 19 out of 25 General Elections. On the rare occasions Fine Gael dominated coalitions have come to power the smaller right-wing party never held on longer than one term in office.

That said, the scale of the 2011 Fianna Fáil defeat is without precedent – Irish Times Political Editor Stephen Collins summed it up well : “The political mould was truly broken. The fall of Fianna Fáil and the rise of Fine Gael were amazing enough but the Labour Party had its best result ever, as did Sinn Féin. The Greens were wiped out and there was an even greater surge of Independents than in 2002. The collapse of the Fianna Fáil vote from 41.5 per cent in 2007 to just 17.4 per cent this time around was astounding”. (Irish Times Election Supplement – Verdict 2011 – Monday February 28 2011, page 2)

The Room for the Left :

In the past left-wing rivals have challenged a Labour Party in coalition with the right, but nothing compares with the sensational 2011 result in either quantity or quality.

”The new Dáil will have its strongest ever group to the left of Labour: over twenty TDs, including Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and left-wing independents.”. (Dan Finn, Crisis Jam, The Plan Is the Plan)

Day 1 of the new Dáil was on March 9 and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach by 117 votes to 27 (the left of Labour group as described above by Dan Finn). In a break with tradition Fianna Fáil’s shrunken Dáil delegation of 20 deputies abstained.

The United Left Alliance was launched in November 2010 and its rock-bottom non-negotiable principle is : no coalition with the right (or external support to a conservative government).

“Those elected as part of the alliance will not do any deals or support any coalition with any of the right wing parties particularly Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. We are committed to building a mass left alternative to unite working people, whether public or private sector, Irish or migrant, with the unemployed, welfare recipients, pensioners and students in the struggle to change society.”

United Left Alliance Foundation Statement

The ULA won five Dáil seats and forced other parties (notably Sinn Féin) to take a similar position.

Previous left challenges to the Labour Party – for example the Workers’ Party / Democratic Left in the 1980’s and 1990’s – either gave external support to right-wing governments, or participated in a right-wing coalition.

In 2007 Sinn Féin said it was “ready for government”, and it participates in a right-wing coalition government with Unionists and nationalist rivals in the Northern six-county bit of Ireland.

At the beginning of the campaign SF leader Gerry Adams, though he was specifically addressing his party’s proposal for a pact with Labour (firmly rejected by its leader Eamonn Gilmore), seemed to imply that he was open for business with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, saying SF was ready for government – and stating that if they could deal with Paisley they could deal with anyone (a statement true in ways he may not have intended!)

Since 1932 the two main right-wing parties – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – have normally commanded over 80 per cent of the popular vote between them – this began to fall off in the 1990’s towards the low 60’s, but the 2011 combined share for this Tweedledum/Tweedledee was a bare majority – 53.5 per cent.

The cause of these dramatic electoral events is well-known : the international financial and economic meltdown which began in September 2008 with the Lehman Brothers’ Bank Crash. The Celtic Tiger boom in Ireland crashed, and the Fianna Fáil / Green Party Coalition government started to pass on the private debts built up by failed Irish Banks to the the Irish workers.

Accurate opinion polls identified a huge gap between public rejection of the European Central bank / International Monetary Fund Austerity Drive and the policies of the main political parties :

“All the numbers indicate the size of the electoral political earthquake we are living with :

one of the most telling findings is the answer the the question “We should have defaulted on loans rather than bring in the IMF and EU”?

45 per cent say Yes, 28 per cent say No and 27 per cent Don’t Know – a huge disconnect here between the apparent majority view and the official positions of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party.”

Irish People Repudiate IMF/ECB Bailout of Bank Gamblers

That gap has been partially closed by the 2011 General Election Result – thanks mainly to the work of the United Left Alliance – the new Fine Gael / Labour coalition will continue with the policy of the previous Fianna Fáil / Green Party

Opposing the nomination of Enda Kenny for Taoiseach Joe Higgins TD quoted the words of James Connolly on the betrayal of the Irish Parliamentary Party – just over 100 years ago – which shamefully surrendered to Imperialist Capitalism by supporting Britain in the First World War ­

Connolly advocated an uprising in Ireland which could “set the torch to a European conflagration that will not burn out until the last throne and the last capitalist bond and debenture will be shrivelled on the funeral pyre of the last war lord.”

Yes, the February 25 General Election changed something in Ireland – it may just be a start, but it is a good one.

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